The Jewish Community in America, Past and Present - Lesson Plan for Adults
This lesson plan is part of a larger Go & Learn guide entitled “Writing Home: A Letter from an early American Jew.”
Introduction: A Brief History of the American Jewish Community
Begin with a brief overview of the beginnings of the American Jewish community. Summarize the introduction provided on the overview for this Go & Learn guide, or ask the following questions to elicit this history:
- When did the first Jewish community reach American shores?
- When were the first organized Jewish communities and synagogues created?
- When did the first Jewish settlers come to your state?
- What were the first Jewish institutions in your city?
Rebecca Samuel, A Young Jew in America
Introduce the letter by Rebecca Samuel and have a participant read the letter aloud.
Discuss the following questions as a group:
- What is most striking to you about Rebecca Samuel’s letter?
- What are her greatest concerns about life in America?
Jewish Institutional Life
Compare the contemporary American Jewish community with the community Rebecca Samuel encountered. First, on a whiteboard or large piece of paper, write the categories of the organized Jewish world (a sample list is below), and then under these categories, list all of the American Jewish organizations that your group can come up with. If you think your group will need help, browse the Community Directory of Jewish resources from The Jewish Federations of North America. Decide where each organization would fit in the categories you have listed. The UJC list is not complete, so you will also want to ask what organizations are not represented there.
Some possible categories of American Jewish organizations:
- Federations and national umbrella organizations
- camps and youth organizations
- social services
- community relations
- ritual organizations (kashrut [certifying observance of Jewish dietary laws], cemeteries, mikvahs [a place to perform a Jewish ritual immersion])
- Zionist/aid to Israel
- women’s/men’s associations
- political advocacy
- newspapers and websites
When your list of organizations is finished, consider and discuss (this may be done as a large group, individually by writing first, or in smaller discussion groups):
- To which of these Jewish organizations do you feel most connected and/or committed?
- Which of these organizations have served you or your family in direct or indirect ways?
- What (if any) resources do you feel are missing from the American Jewish community today?
- What do we learn about the American Jewish community from its institutional life? What isn’t reflected in these institutions?
- By what criteria does the American Jewish community measure its successes and its challenges? Do you agree with these criteria? What other criteria or measurements are important to you? Do we use the same criteria for evaluation that Rebecca Samuel did?
- If Rebecca Samuel were to see organized American Jewish life in action today, what do you think would most surprise her? Gladden her? Sadden her?